Comment: Hiring and firing of nurses not good for NHS

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The boom and bust hiring and firing of nurses in the last decade has done little to improve healthcare within the NHS, says Theresa Fyffe

You can be forgiven for having missed it, as only the avid healthcare anorak would be looking out for them in the tidal wave of health stats published earlier this week, but the latest official figures for NHS Scotland’s workforce have now been released. And perhaps predictably, it appears that health boards across the country – NHS Lothian included – are now trying to turn around the cuts of recent years.

Indeed, across Scotland, the nursing and midwifery workforce grew by 0.2 per cent in the last quarter, with NHS Lothian planning to recruit an extra 336 nurses to meet demand over the course of the current financial year.

So, I don’t want to sound as if I’m saying “I told you so” however, as the organisation that is passionate about patient care and nursing, we did issue repeated warnings to Scotland’s health boards that cuts to the nursing workforce and to the number of student nurses being recruited would store up problems for the future.

This “boom and bust” approach to the nursing workforce – which is the largest group of staff in our NHS – was something that occurred in past decades, and experience tells us it is not the way to deliver good quality patient care.

Today we see vacancies continuing to rise, albeit at a slower rate, as some health boards try to recruit to posts where there just aren’t enough appropriately qualified nurses available.

With robust workforce and student intake planning in the past, this situation could have been avoided.

There is no doubt that NHS Lothian is responding to the wake-up call caused by the cuts, but with potentially significant reforms to the way healthcare is delivered in the pipeline, will this be enough?

The jury is still very much out as to whether its response, and that of the NHS as a whole, will be enough to relieve the pressures caused by ever-increasing demand, particularly as winter approaches.

Theresa Fyffe is director of Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland